Jordan reclaims borderlands as Israel ties under strain

Amid mounting domestic public pressure last year, Jordan’s king said he would not renew land deal with Israel.

The national flags of Israel and Jordan are seen in an area known as Naharayim in Hebrew and Baquora in Arabic, in the border area between Israel and Jordan, as seen from the Israeli side November 10,
The national flags of Israel and Jordan are seen in al-Baquora in the border area between the two countries [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Jordan on Sunday received two stretches of land it had allowed Israel to use for decades, amid tense relations between the neighbours 25 years after they signed a landmark peace deal.

Under the terms of two annexes in the 1994 treaty, the enclaves of al-Baqoura and al-Ghumar would remain under Jordanian sovereignty while Israeli farmers maintained access to the land.

But in 2018, amid mounting public pressure not to renew the arrangement relating to the two territories, Jordan’s King Abdullah II submitted a one-year notice of termination to Israel.

Tense ties

There is little support for the peace treaty among most Jordanians, many of whom are of Palestinian origin, and relations between Israel and its eastern neighbour have often been tense since the deal was signed.

Amman strongly backs the establishment of a Palestinian state and has been frustrated by the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Last month, Jordan temporarily recalled its ambassador from Israel over the detention without charge or trial of two Jordanians. In 2017, an Israeli embassy security guard in Amman killed two Jordanians.

Jordan and Israel have fought two wars in historic Palestine. The first erupted in 1948, which led to the founding of the state of Israel in the western parts of Palestine, while Jordan took control of eastern Palestine, also known as the West Bank, formally annexing it.

The two sides fought another war in 1967, with Jordan’s defeat resulting in its withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, although Amman maintained its claim to sovereignty there.

Israel seized al-Baqoura, located in northern Jordan, in 1948 while it took al-Ghumar in the south after the 1967 war. They have been used for agricultural and tourism purposes.

Hopes for peace

While the neighbours did not sign a peace treaty until 1994, the late King Hussein ceded Jordan’s claims to sovereignty over the West Bank in 1988, effectively extracting itself from the conflict. As a result of the move, Palestinian residents of the West Bank lost Jordanian nationality.

Hussein’s move was intended to give the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) -which was locked in a conflict with Jordan at the time -the mandate it had long sought to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people. It also provided Israel with an opportunity to reframe the status of the West Bank to that of a “disputed territory” and gradually taking it over and build illegal settlements.

In 1994, Jordanian political leaders assumed that the 1993 US-brokered Israel-Palestinian Oslo Accords would eventually produce a formal peace between the two sides.

Adnan Abu Odeh, a former key adviser to Abdullah II and his predecessor King Hussein, told Al Jazeera that Jordan and the Palestinians thought that peace with Israel “was within reach and the Palestinian state was around the corner.”

However, little progress has been made in reaching a deal since then, leaving Palestinians stateless.

Abu Odeh said that in allowing Israel to keep the territories in 1994, Jordan was too “lenient”, claiming that Jordanians and Palestinians have prioritised peace over their rights in negotiations with Israel.

“Israel has never treated either the Jordanians or the Palestinians in a similar way,” he said.

Special Jerusalem role

While Jordan has sealed the return of the two territories, it still has to deal with Israel over the bigger issue of its role in protecting Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa Mosque.

While Jordanian leaders publicly state that the peace treaty grants Jordan, and more specifically King Abdullah II, the custodianship of the Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, the treaty itself does not refer to “custodianship”.

The text of the treaty states that “Israel respects the present special role of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” and also says “Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines”.

Israel has not publicly contested the Jordanian claims, but it sometimes allows Israelis to enter Muslim places of worship, often disregarding Jordanian protestations or condemnations.

“When Israel allows Jordan its special role, it means Israel is in control of the Muslim as well as Christian holy places in Jerusalem,” said Abu Odeh, adding that the special role does not mean custodianship, but Jordan decided to name its role as such.

“This is the top of the naivete of the Arabs” he added.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera